If the continents had once been joined

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keannu

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Does the writer think the continents were not joined with "[FONT=돋움]had once been joined[/FONT]" to denote a counterfactuality or is it a past perfect like "had moved" to denote a past possibility? What kind of conditional is this? I think "had+p.p" to denote a past possibility is quite rare.

st168)In 1912, a German scientist, Alfred Wegener, proposed a hypothesis called continental drift, which stated that the continents had moved. Wegener hypothesized that the continents once formed part of a single giant landmass, which he named Pangaea, meaning "all lands." In addition to the similarities in the coastlines of the continents, Wegener soon found other evidence to support his hypothesis. If the continents had once been joined, research should uncover fossils of the same plants and animals in areas that had been adjoining parts of Pangaea. Wegener knew that identical fossil remains had already been found in both eastern South America and western Africa. The age and type of rocks in the coastal regions of widely separated areas, such as western Africa and eastern Brazil, matched closely . Despite the evidence supporting the hypothesis of continental drift, Wegener's ideas met with strong opposition.
 

keannu

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I think it's the writer's mistake. It should have been "If the continents were once joined,.." to denote presumption in the past, considering the whole context. Or as it's regarded as a hypothesis, he may think it is only counterfactual. It the former is the case, can I assume even some native speakers are not sure of which conditional to use when writing?
 

probus

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Wegener's hypothesis can be stated thus: If the continents were once joined together then such and so ought to be found.

But the passage goes on to indicate that such and so have indeed already been found and "matched closely in age and type" (past). Therefore I have no problem with the author's used of "had once been joined" as his hypothetical condition. The sequence of tenses is correct in my opinion.
 

keannu

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In conditionals, "If subject+had+p.p" is contrary to the fact. So by "If the continents had once been joined", he means "the continents were not joined, but if we suppose the contrary thing, then..", but it is opposite or contradictory to the following "The age and type of rocks .....matched closely" which denotes that such things happend. Maybe I'm mistaken. What do you think?
 

probus

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I think logical statements of the if-then form have nothing to do with facts. If a then b. A may be true or false. It makes no difference to the validity of the logical inference, if a then b.

The author, in my opinion, takes no position on the truth or otherwise of Wegener's hypothetical condition. He states that evidence for the truth the conclusion has in the past been found, and therefore he merely (and correctly) places the hypothesis in the even earlier past.

I've said before that I've never learned about counter-factual conditionals, and given the knots they seem to tie you up in, I question their pedagogical usefulness.
 

keannu

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So far, I have known "if had+pp" is only counterfactual, but judging from what you said, I'd like to conclude it can be a predictive(presumption) conditional of the past as well. Thank you!
 

5jj

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keannu, You are still trying to slot every sentence containing 'would' into a limited number of labelled categories. Many of the learners to whom I have introduced the idea of counterfactuality have found it useful, but they have used it with two other Cs, context and common sense.

Normally, present hypotheses about the past refer to a counterfactual situation because the speaker knows it is counterfactual. "If Wegener had not thought of continental drift, somebody else would have thought of it." The speaker knows that Wegener did think of continental drift, and that's what makes his not-thinking-of-it conjecture about a counterfactual situation.

Sometimes, a speaker/writer can hypothesise about a situation before a past time when (at the later past time), people did not know whether it was counterfactual or not.

Compare:Sir William Jones was fascinated by the resemblances he found between Sanskrit and Classical Greek.
If there had been a common root (and he thought this was a distinct possibility), he would do his best to establish its form.

Others thought he was mad.
If there had been a common root (and they believed that there had not), it would not have split into two or more such different languages.
 
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